Lasting Tracks

By: Jay Leyendecker

Beneath the scorching sun, I picked up the half-day-old tracks of a lost, small herd of cattle on a south Texas ranch. I was asked by the landowner if I thought I could find them without the use of a helicopter, and I believed I could. “They’re headed south,” I said and pointed as I climbed on the hood of the old red Dodge truck. It was hot that afternoon, deep into the 90s. The heat coming up from the engine of the pick-up didn’t make the ride any more pleasant from my perch, but it was undoubtedly the best place to be to cut the spoor.

As we steered south, I watched the tracks come into the crossroad. As they weaved in and out of the sendero, my mind wandered towards the ins-and-outs of my life’s journey and how I came to be in ranch brokerage. The art of what I was immediately doing—tracking these lost cows—took me back to my safari days in Botswana where I spent thousands of miles and hours tracking wildlife in the sands of the Kalahari Desert, while the San Bushman trackers were teaching along the way on how to pay attention to the detail and intricacies of a hoof print, and to envision the next move or outcome of the scenario. Little did I know that the same principles, yet less primal, would later apply to my realty career

Having grown up in and around south Texas ranches under the guidance of my grandfather, the laws and respect of the land were instilled in me at a young age. Every weekend was spent on his friend’s ranches where we worked and played at the same time. He had the keys to many properties across our portion of the state, a clear indication of the trust landowners in our area had in him. I was lucky to have him as a teacher and to this day I still maintain many of those friendships he had, though now with the younger generations.

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As the tracks veered from the road, it became apparent to me they were not coming back and it wasn’t going to get any easier. After about half a mile from where I saw the last bit of sign, we stopped the truck and I told the landowner I was going to walk into the brush and cut the trail to pursue them on foot. I asked him to wait by the vehicle and not move while I was away, unless I was able to call and instructed otherwise.

About 500 yards from the truck, I picked up the animal’s tracks moving in a south-easterly direction and commenced pursuit. As I followed, I noticed it was all getting fresher. Ahead I could see a dense coma tree and mesquite thicket where I believed them to be headed for a bit of midday shade. Sure enough, they had laid up in the entanglement but had just left the area. Upon closer inspection of the sign, I imagined I would find the strays in less than 15 minutes. As I resumed my pace while concentrating on the ground ahead, a cow bellowed right in front of me. I picked up my phone and took a quick snap and texted it over to my landowner friend who was patiently waiting by the vehicle. He was elated to see the hard evidence that the herd was still in fact there, as quite a bit of time had passed since he had last “put eyes on them.” I called to the cows and luckily, they responded well and followed me for the long trek back to the truck. When I returned with the lost animals tailing me, all I could see was a big Texas grin from ear to ear. He thanked me, gave the cattle some cubes, and noted that a couple new calves had been born since he had last seen them.

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We hopped back into the truck, finished making the rounds on the ranch, and after ensuring everything was as it needed to be, we headed home. We hadn’t driven about two miles down the road and he thanked me again and said, “Amigo, I need to introduce you to a friend of mine who is interested in purchasing a ranch down here and I know you have the established relationships and resources. Would you mind if I gave him your telephone number?” So, since then I’ve been on the track for a whole other animal.

I’m fortunate to have had my grandfather as long as I did and for all the friendships he bestowed unto me. Throughout those years he taught me a lot of lessons, the most important ones being to always respect the land, and how to grow and maintain long-term friendships.